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A.B. Krongard Remarks at OSS Conference

Remarks by the Executive Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
A.B. Krongard at the Conference on the 60th Anniversary of OSS

June 7, 2002


I am delighted to welcome you to this conference on the life and legacy of the Office of Strategic Services. In this building, and in places of duty throughout the world, the story of OSS is what history should be: a guide, a lesson, and a source of inspiration.

To the men and women of CIA, the men and women of OSS are both heroes and pioneers. Heroes for the part you played in the defeat of evil in Europe and Asia. Pioneers for the example and the experience you provided to American espionage in the Cold War, indeed, through to today.

You formed our country’s first, truly modern intelligence agency. You made a new concept work. And OSS did it amid the urgent pressures of global war.

In its day, OSS brought together analysis, operations, and technology—just as we try to do today. And it was in OSS, with the crucial help of our British friends, that our earliest forms of clandestine tradecraft were absorbed and refined. In countless ways, OSS is the foundation on which now, sixty years later, we continue to build.

The experiences of OSS—its gains, glories, setbacks, and sacrifices—are not only relevant to us, they are part of us. Though the line from OSS to CIA was neither smooth nor unbroken, our wartime inheritance has been a source of tremendous, lasting wealth—in mission, in spirit, and in talent.

OSS was expected, much as we are now, to make sense of a world in turmoil and, where possible, to change it for the better. The methods to accomplish that mission were—and still are—as broad as the mission itself. The answer could lie in an intercepted message, the report of an agent, a book, a newspaper, or all of those things and even more.

Whatever the means, the goal was always the same: To reach behind the battle lines, either to learn about the enemy or to attack him directly. To strike in any possible way, by giving our fighting forces the advantage of intelligence or by giving resistance movements the advantages of equipment, training, and—most of all—hope.

The yardstick OSS applied to its efforts was the one that mattered most—results. In the words of its legendary director, William Donovan: “The Office of Strategic Services means what its name implies: every service of a strategic nature, tried or untried, that may be useful to our Army and Navy and Air Force.”

And, as a former Marine, I’d like to think that he would have included the Marine Corps, although it probably didn’t need help.

The challenge was immensely diverse. But no more diverse than the talent Donovan assembled to meet it, much of which is seated in front of me today. He understood—as few others did—that global intelligence demands a global pool of knowledge.

As one veteran wrote: “Every sort of specialized and esoteric skill was represented, from professors of Sanskrit to demolition experts, cryptologists, judo instructors, sharpshooters, and specialists in guerrilla warfare. Someone even recruited a couple of safecrackers, father and son, who gave up a lucrative career as burglars to put their specialties at the service of the war effort.”

Theirs was not the typical OSS family fortune.

If there is any truth to the famous quip that OSS stood for “Oh-So-Social,” it is because Donovan—who had to build his organization from scratch in a hurry—turned to his vast network of friends for recruits, a network that included the pinnacle of American law, industry, and education.

But that is only part of the story. OSS also needed men and women who spoke with native proficiency the languages of Occupied Europe.

Officers whose families had recently come to these shores to share in the promise of America. Officers who, in places which they or their parents had left in search of a better life, gave their own lives in the cause of freedom—for the new world and the old world.

Despite the enormous demands of a nation mobilized for war, OSS attracted the people it needed: the elite from many walks of life and others who had simply done useful things in life.

They came in many ways, by many roads, but they each contributed to, and were touched by, the spirit that shaped and moved OSS. A spirit captured in five words from General Donovan himself. Five words that, for me, define him as a leader—and I quote: “Go ahead and try it.”

That was his answer to a creative idea. An answer of boldness and encouragement. He certainly knew the costs of that approach. But he knew even better the costs of convention and caution in the face of ruthless enemies like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

As he explained at the end of the war: “We were not afraid to make mistakes because we were not afraid to try things that had not been tried before.” And—for all but a handful of Americans—intelligence and espionage had never been tried before.

With stakes set at life and death, Donovan knew what he was asking. That is why, when he could, he met with the men he was sending into danger. In his office on the first floor of East Building, he would look them in the eye, speak to them, and wish them good luck as they made ready for combat.

With his own record of heroism and his constant drive for innovation in thought and action, Donovan was well equipped to bring out those qualities in others. And he did in each of you.

  • In analysis, OSS helped pioneer two disciplines on which we still rely today—specific targeting studies and general area studies.
  • In operations, its web reached into the very heart of the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.
  • And in technology, its assortment of tools was so clever, and at times so lethal, that Donovan said of his own chief of Research and Development: “If he had been born a German, I wouldn’t give ten cents for Franklin Roosevelt’s life.”

In approach to mission, approach to talent, and in its spirit of daring and creativity, the legacy of OSS will always be at the heart of CIA. If you seek the continuity between us, you can find it in so many places, so many people, and so many stories, including this, a story of two handshakes.

In Burma, at the height of the Second World War, a new American fighting unit, Merrill’s Marauders, was on the move when one of its advance columns came across a mysterious figure. Clad in a partly Australian, partly British, partly American uniform, he reportedly stuck out his hand and said: “Glad you got here, boys.”

He was from OSS Detachment 101, the commando formation that had made life miserable for the Japanese.

Almost sixty years later, in an Afghan valley, a Special Forces team—among the first into the country and itself a proud successor to OSS—ran into a party of mysterious figures. From one of those figures, through a darkness broken only by flashlight, came the roar of an American voice: “Hi! I’m Hal! Damn glad to meet you.”

He was from CIA’s Special Activities Division, and had been scouting the ground, gathering information.

In a world described by change, there are things that do not change, grit and courage among them. And the certainty that the strength of American intelligence will remain side-by-side with the force of American arms.

In January of 1923, William Donovan wrote a letter to his wartime comrades in the 69th New York. “A regiment,” he reminded them, “lives by its tradition.”

As does an agency like ours—one that asks so much of those who serve in our ranks. One in which intangibles like morale, commitment, and inspiration are decisive.

That is why this conference is so important. And that is why we deeply appreciate the dedication of everyone who has helped make it happen.

For the story of OSS must be kept fresh and vibrant.

Not only for the sake of the patriots who lived it. But for all who continue the vital missions begun decades ago by that remarkable organization of remarkable Americans.

Thank you very much.


Historical Document
Posted: Apr 03, 2007 08:59 PM
Last Updated: Jun 20, 2008 08:33 AM